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Houses Being Occupied, Banks Taking Notice: How 'Occupy Our Homes' Is Evolving

An internal Bank of America email that surfaced last week fretted that anti-foreclosure actions could "impact our industry."

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In some cases, according to Acuff, individuals who lived in re-occupied homes end up transitioning to other living situations voluntarily. Other times, they are evicted by the owners.

Take Back The Land has placed homeless individuals in five or six unoccupied structures in the Rochester area, Acuff said. A number of activists now working with Take Back the Land in Rochester, he said, are themselves formerly homeless.

Acuff and Take Back the Land have also assisted Catherine Lennon, an evicted Rochester resident who activist and Center for American Progress fellow Van Jones called a “modern day Rosa Parks,” in resisting eviction and in the fight to work out a deal with Bank of America.

“We want to link up with people across the country, across our neighborhoods, to build this movement,” Acuff said. “The Occupy movement has brought us some positive momentum. I feel like we're entering a new phase.”

One thing is for sure: Banks are taking notice.

An internal Bank of America email that surfaced last week fretted that anti-foreclosure actions could “impact our industry.”

“We believe protests will likely take place tomorrow at auction sites, homes that are being foreclosed, homes in the eviction stage and vacant homes,” reads the email, which was addressed to the bank's Field Services suppliers. “We want to make sure you are all prepared.”

Bank of America confirmed to ThinkProgress that the email is authentic, but did not respond to a Campus Progress request for comment on the Occupy Our Homes movement.

“This is standard operating procedure,” Bank of America spokesperson Jumana Bauwens told ThinkProgress. “The safety of our associates and third party contractors is our first priority. It is the bank’s policy to protect and secure our properties for the investors who own them. Bank of America is committed to helping our customers with home retention solutions and other foreclosure avoidance programs. Foreclosure is always our last resort.”

Safety concerns are misplaced, according to Newby. It serves organizers best, he said, to “de-escalate any confrontational situation.”

"The goal is to get banks to work with people in advance of the eviction, so that people who want to stay can find a solution to stay,” Newby said. “Violence is not part of the answer."

As far as squatting goes, Newby said he thinks the people of North Minneapolis are best served by eviction resistance and advocacy rather than re-occupation, though such efforts become crucial after the fact and in today’s economy. But his primary goal, which he says is to empower residents of disenfranchised communities like North Minneapolis to seek positive political and social change on their own, is widely embraced by Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Our Homes.

There is some concern that lenders and mortgage associations will just bide their time until protesters move on, and then fall back into the same predatory tactics that inspired activists to stand up for individuals like White and Lennon in the first place. But Newby thinks the energy is here to stay.

“I'm not at all worried that this is going to go away,” Newby said. “The question is whether and how it becomes sustainable.”

Jon Christian (@Jon_Christian) is a staff writer at Campus Progress.